Death By Buddhism Part 2: In Which Brad Admits He Was Definitely Wrong About One Thing and Possibly Wrong About Some Others

MJ Gibbs said:
“Here is something I will throw out there. What if Brad had a close public Zen relationship with a student and that student suddenly went bonkers during a retreat? How responsible is Brad for such a thing happening? Should he be criticized or should the student be criticized or both? Plus, what if that student used to be Brad’s lover and left him for another student, that would make their teacher/student relationship even stranger.

I’ve been thinking along these lines myself and thinking that perhaps I was a little too harsh on Michael Roach. I know so little about him I actually had to go back and look at my previous blog posting just now to be sure I was remembering his name correctly. I feel like I might have been overly influenced by the NY Times’ portrayal of events.

It still appears to me that something pretty odd was happening at this retreat. People don’t usually wind up dead at Buddhist retreats. They’re generally not that dangerous. And that deal with Roach and his now ex-wife never being more than 15 feet apart? That’s just weird. That speaks to a whole level of generalized weirdness that I’m not sure I even want to know about. Just the mere fact that he did that and then decided to make a big PR event out of it. There’s something strange afoot.

On the other hand, every Buddhist teacher I’ve ever known (including me) has had to deal with mentally unstable people who are attracted to our practice. I think we all try to do our best with those people. We don’t want to just simply send them away. Some of us think we can help more than we actually can, and we go further than we really should. Sometimes it takes a big incident to make it very clear that we can’t handle certain people.

In Crooked Cucumber, David Chadwick’s magnificent biography of Shunryu Suzuki, there’s a story about how Suzuki’s first wife was murdered by a monk who was studying with Suzuki. This happened in Japan long before Suzuki came to America, by the way. Suzuki knew this monk was nutty. But he thought he could help and he really didn’t understand just how nutty the guy was. The end was tragic and Suzuki never really forgave himself for it.

Given that, it’s perhaps too much to simply blame Mr. Roach for the death of his ex-wife’s new husband. It is conceivable that something like this could happen even at a very standard Buddhist retreat. It’s difficult to know just how weird things were getting on this retreat simply by reading what the NY Times has to say and what Mr. Roach has to say in his defense. Both sources of information are less than ideal, to say the least. And I’m not interested enough to launch a thorough investigation into the matter. I’m sure that will be done by someone much more qualified anyway.

Furthermore, I was wrong in saying that three year retreats were unorthodox. I did not know until after I posted the article that such retreats are normal in the Tibetan tradition. Yet I still find the word “retreat” problematic. Because, to me, a retreat implies a rather intensive practice and I continue to believe that it’s better to limit the amount of time one does such intensive practices. From what I’m hearing, though, the usual practice on such three year retreats in mainstream Tibetan Buddhism isn’t all that intensive. It’s not like a three year sesshin (3, 5, or 7 day Zen intensives where one does zazen pretty much all day every day). They sound more like what is usually called a training period in Zen, where one lives in a monastery and devotes oneself to practice and study often for three years, but there are opportunities for more normal sorts of socialization and suchlike.

It appeared to me that what was being described in Mr. Roach’s case was a three year meditation intensive, which would be enough to make anyone go kind of buggy. Perhaps I was wrong about that. Though I still feel like something just doesn’t smell right here. The language Mr. Roach uses to describe the object of the retreat as a “laboratory of solitary retreat (where participants hope to) realize the final goal taught by Lord Buddha” still sounds way off base. This, to me, implies a rather macho, go-getter attitude that I think can only lead to trouble.

On the other hand, I still feel that the bigger problem remains. Buddhism is becoming increasingly trendy in the West. As this happens, more and more people will jump on the bandwagon with their own oddball variations. I’ve been accused of doing so myself, though I’m also often accused of being too stodgy and conservative in my approach.

I’m not so sure anymore that Mr. Roach really does teach a kind of “prosperity theology” Buddhism. Although I do know for a fact that the prosperity theology philosophy is already being applied to Buddhism as well as other Eastern religions with a great degree of financial success. My friend Blake said, “Middle class white people who talk about ‘abundance’ and ‘prosperity’ make me want to laugh at and punch them at the same time.” I feel that way sometimes too. And if you hang out with the “I’m into Eastern spirituality” crowd for more than ten minutes you’ll hear those words a whole lot.

Anyway, the upshot of this post is to say that perhaps (perhaps) I spoke too soon about Mr. Roach. But I’m too busy packing for my cross country move on Friday to devote the amount of time and energy required to investigate it thoroughly.

Jeez. I really have to go pack.

96 Responses

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  1. Rich
    Rich June 13, 2012 at 1:48 pm |

    Ted said
    Rich, to be clear, nobody has rejected Christie, and she’s still welcome in our group. The board says that they asked her and Ian to leave because they were worried about ongoing domestic violence, not because they were rejecting her. I really hope that she doesn’t feel banned, exiled or rejected, but you may be right that she does.

    Thanks for the explanation. Maybe someone can tell her that or have her read this – just in case.

    from your description / non description of enlightenment maybe different buddhist sects are not as far apart as people might think.

    1. Ted
      Ted June 13, 2012 at 2:00 pm |

      I’ve heard some rumors as to what’s up with Christie at this point, and the impression that I have is that she’s with good friends who are taking care of her, but they aren’t Diamond Mountain people. If I were in her shoes, that’s probably where I’d be too. So I’m not stressing about this at the moment. I expect we’ll hear from her when she’s ready for us to hear from her.

      I suspect that reading this article right now would not be a pleasant experience for her, despite the generally positive sentiments expressed in the comments… :}

  2. Rich
    Rich June 13, 2012 at 2:16 pm |

    Yea, you are probably right. I don’t know anything, just projecting from my own experience of similar situations.

  3. Fred
    Fred June 13, 2012 at 3:04 pm |

    “Ok. My contention would be that the mind moves right before we fall asleep, if we are able to hold to consciousness long enough to observe it. That’s a big “if”; I personally played with hypnosis a lot in high school”

    Alan Watts would say that the world is hypnosis. Wolinsky a former psychiatrist
    and current sage would say that we are in and out of trance states all day long.

    I like to follow Gudo’s advice and stop thought before falling asleep. When you
    say the mind moves what does that mean? Do you mean the mind is dropped
    for a period of time or do you mean you are the universe then?

  4. Fred
    Fred June 13, 2012 at 4:28 pm |

    This is what Ken Wilber said 35 years ago. You cannot experience the Void,
    emptiness, enlightenment, because it is the Void that is doing the looking,

  5. Ray
    Ray June 13, 2012 at 9:28 pm |

    … well then here’s lookin’ at you Fred 🙂

    I think Huang Po had Mr. Wilber beat by 1000+ years or so…

    1. Fred
      Fred June 14, 2012 at 10:37 am |

      ” This Mind, which is without beginning, is unborn and indestructible. It is not green nor yellow, and has neither form nor appearance. It does not belong to the categories of things which exist or do not exist, nor can it be thought of in terms of new or old. It is neither long nor short, big nor small, for it transcends all limits, measure, names, traces and comparisons. It is that which you see before you – begin to reason about it and you at once fall into error. It is like the boundless void which cannot be fathomed or measured. The One Mind alone is the Buddha, and there is no distinction between the Buddha and sentient things, but that sentient beings are attached to forms and so seek externally for Buddhahood. By their very seeking they lose it, for that is using the Buddha to seek for the Buddha and using mind to grasp Mind. ”

      1000 years as the conceptual mind goes.

  6. kathleen
    kathleen June 13, 2012 at 9:41 pm |

    You might want to check out this article in ElephantJournal titled “Psychosis, Stabbing, Secrecy & Death at a Neo-Buddhist University in Arizona ” by Matthew Remski

  7. MJGibbs
    MJGibbs June 13, 2012 at 9:55 pm |

    Nice to read your views on this sad situation, Ted.

  8. MJGibbs
    MJGibbs June 13, 2012 at 10:05 pm |

    Nice to read your views on this sad situation, Ted. Like I stated before, I met Geshe Michael Roach and Lama Christie at a Barnes & Noble talk shortly after they came out of their first three-year retreat. I was going through a bit of a spiritual crisis at the time. If I recall correctly, this was around the same time I read Brad’s first book. I actually had a chance to talk with them one on one for a moment. They gave me so useful advice at the time that helped me deal with my little crisis (as did Hardcore Zen).

  9. Justin Lewis
    Justin Lewis June 13, 2012 at 11:11 pm |

    Ted wrote:

    “The reason I find Richard Baker’s preface sweet is because I can hear the same feeling in him that I get from my relationship with my teacher. ”

    Yeah we certainly have our own reactions to Buddhist writings. I cut out the entire preface and introduction of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind with an exacto knife after I read them. I’m not entirely sure why, but they just rubbed me the wrong way right from the get go. It was sorta a useless knee-jerk reaction to a spoiler which for obvious reasons I won’t repeat here. But for roughly half the book I distracted myself with the anticipation of that spoiler. I’m also not a big fan of the practice of printing big bold phrases at the beginning of each section before you read them later on in context. For me, it sort of cheapens that phrase when I finally get to it.

    I’m also sorta retarded that way when it comes to some song titles, go figure. Just one of my minor ticks.

    As far as those missing pages go, well… I kept them. I’m going to mull over them a few more times so I can figure out why the hell they irk me so much.

    1. Ted
      Ted June 14, 2012 at 12:23 am |

      Huh. A Buddhist teacher, doing something deliberately to piss you off. Go figure. That’s so out of character… 🙂

      1. Justin Lewis
        Justin Lewis June 14, 2012 at 2:30 pm |

        I’ve always kinda wondered about that sort of behavior. I’ve never actually hung out with a Buddhist teacher that did anything to deliberately to piss me off. I think Brad once described his experience of Nishijima as a “force of nature” and that Nishijima seemed like he was deliberately baiting people, but I think that was just a description of the impression he had at the time. I’m not sure Nishijima would deliberately piss anyone off. Maybe he was just ignorant of the things that people were trying deperately to cling to. But I don’t really know, I wasn’t there.

        I have heard of that practice though, and I’m pretty sure it’s a real thing. And while I think there’s certainly nothing wrong with poking fun once in awhile, I’m not entirely sure it’s appropriate behavior for a teacher to do so directly to a student with the intention of irking them.

        1. Ted
          Ted June 14, 2012 at 4:16 pm |

          Traditionally there are four modes of a teacher: peaceful, generous, powerful and wrathful. You see Suzuki-roshi teaching from all four of these modes, but not every student sees the teacher teaching them in every mode—it depends on what the student needs. And what mode a particular teaching is is different from student to student as well—to me the “spoiler” you are referring to (assuming it’s the same one) seemed playful, so I would put it in either the generous or powerful mode. But to you it was so annoying that you defaced a Dharma book to cope with it, so clearly to you it was wrathful.

          The point of wrathful teachings is to force you to confront your negative emotions, or to get you unstuck when explaining why you are stuck doesn’t work (it usually doesn’t!).

          1. Justin Lewis
            Justin Lewis June 14, 2012 at 7:18 pm |

            I was defacing dinosaur books with magic markers by age 3! You could say it’s one of my specialties.

  10. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 14, 2012 at 1:23 am |

    “When you say the mind moves what does that mean? Do you mean the mind is dropped for a period of time or do you mean you are the universe then?”

    That’s the peculiarity, if I were dropping the mind, you know that’s not it, but as the mind where the mind is. Here’s my friend humbleone in New York, from the Tao Bums thread on The Myth of the Eight Hour Sleep:

    ‘Hi Mark, so I tried your practice last night. My ideal sleep time should be from 10PM-6AM

    I woke up at 4:30AM, after a quick drink of water. returned to bed and tried your practice.

    I hope I did it correctly, I was somewhat surprized that my mind moved around quite a bit. not fast, but in slow motion the awareness would shift, from left cheek to right side of torso etc. The end result was a light sleep state, but I was glued to the bed.’

    Like that.

    You could say I notice where I am in space, where consciousness is taking place in three dimensions. Humbleone wrote again at three days, then at seven, he was able to get back to sleep seven nights in a row. Then he wrote this:

    ‘I have taken it a bit further, experimenting it during the day. same practice, find the location of the consiousness.

    It pulls me into the present. the feeling last 2-3 seconds, but it is something that I have never experienced before. being really present, here and now. the mental projection into the future stops, the past stops. I am just here and now. no future plans or worries. no goals, no dreams that are waiting to be fullfilled. time stops. no where to go. I am just here and now.’

  11. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 14, 2012 at 12:32 pm |

    I did reply to humbleone’s request for more description of the practice with a recap of the science of referred sensation, meaning that allopathic medicine uses the presence of numbness on the surface of the skin to locate pinched nerve exits along the sacrum and spine. I offered that in my experience, the ability to feel to the surface of the skin of the entire body is related to the ability of consciousness to occur freely in three dimensional space with respect to the senses, and in fact it’s my belief that as a part of natural well-being, the two respirations utilize the place of occurrence of consciousness to open feeling to the surface of the skin.

    I don’t know if my recap and experience helped humbleone to find the movement of mind or not, but I know it helps me.

    Here’s an interesting bit from Shunryu Suzuki’s lecture on whole body zazen:

    “You may say that your mind is practicing zazen and ignore your body, the practice of your body. Sometimes when you think that you are doing zazen with an imperturbable mind, you ignore the body, but it is also necessary to have the opposite understanding at the same time. Your body is practicing zazen in imperturbability while your mind is moving.”

    I think it’s easiest to experience letting go of the place of occurrence of consciousness as a part of falling asleep, and if you’ve ever trained yourself to recall dreams, you will probably catch sight of the mind that moves in the same manner one of these early mornings.

  12. Fred
    Fred June 14, 2012 at 2:33 pm |

    Mark, the tactile, vestibular and proprioceptive systems send information to
    the brain which is processed in terms of billions of previous experiences and
    conditioned inputs. The mind where the mind is is an illusion, an artifact of the
    plastic machine processing trillions of bits of info.

    If you spent your entire life in a sensory deprivation tank, would there be any
    locus of consciosness.

  13. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 14, 2012 at 4:36 pm |

    Are you saying that you would have no sense of place in a sensory deprivation tank, no sense that you are somewhere lying there in the dark?

  14. Encinitas
    Encinitas June 14, 2012 at 8:15 pm |

    Living in the Greater Encinitas area I come into contact with a lot of New Agism mixed in with various forms of Eastern teachings all of the time. Lots of talk about abundance this and manifestation that. Gets tiring after a while.
    But concerning sesshins. Yes, a veteran of a few and I know how batty a whole community can get by day 4 (with the remaining 3 looming hungrily). The itch to ring the bell for the Jikido (who has obviously gone to sleep), stand up and yell, “The dam is bust!” or sneak into the kitchen late at night and lace the Senior Students coffee cup with Ex-lax and etc. None of which I have done to date. Can’t really wrap my mind around 3 years of that. Bummerdang about the whole stabbing bit. Although if that F*$%er across the Buddha Hall doesn’t stop spending so much time adjusting his robes as we sit on our zafus…

  15. Fred
    Fred June 15, 2012 at 8:58 am |

    Mark, my question was If you spent your entire life in a sensory deprivation tank,
    would there be any locus of consciousness?

    If the props supporting this conditioned, limited focus of awareness trapped in
    time, were removed, would duality cease to exist?

    1. Ted
      Ted June 15, 2012 at 10:24 am |

      It must be true either that a person who experiences no sensations at all during their entire life has no locus of consciousness, or that they do have a locus of consciousness—a sense of “here”—that has no context. We have no basis for knowing which.

      However, sages have at various points in history made the claim that if one does one’s practice, it is possible to reach a state of meditation where one experiences this non-duality for oneself. So, we can follow the advice of our predecessors, or we can try to arrange to take our next birth in a sensory deprivation tank. On a purely practical level, it seems to me that the former is more likely to produce interesting results than the latter. 🙂

  16. Alizrin
    Alizrin June 15, 2012 at 11:34 am |

    Hi gang, I am enjoying the discussion!

    Re Ted & Justin’s discussion above:

    I am often irritated by the prose of dharma books, and in classes I can spend lots of time whining about the way the writer phrases things or simplifies “the path” and makes it sound SO EASY (as in, you just do X and then Y happens and it is all smooth sailing from there). I have noticed that the people who grew up steeped in buddhism and were groomed to be teachers (example — Sakyong Mipham) describe everything as so peachy-keen and that if you just sit down and meditate and follow the teachings you will be launched happily into a new existence. This is why I prefer the writings of people who came to meditation later on in life (Brad being a good example) and who struggle in a way similar to the way I do (and by the way, I was raised by a beatnik buddhist so technically I am a 2nd generation buddhist, but it was always just an aspect of his eccentric quirkiness rather than something that he foisted on his children, so really, although I feel I have a different perspective than many people who are newly arrived to buddhism, I do not feel I was steeped heavily in it as a kid).

    But, more recently I have realized that my literary type criticism of dharma books is a way of AVOIDING what the author is really saying and an attempt to turn the whole thing into an intellectual/academic pursuit. In other words, it becomes an obstacle to learning and experiencing the whole thing and simply a resistance tactic.

    I also do the same thing with teaching styles. Yeah, there are teachers who appear to be agressive and obnoxious, and there are teachers who are drippy and dull, and I have certainly sat, fuming in anger or insult or disappointment, with teachers at a retreat or class, but, once again, this is a matter of avoiding the message by focusing on the delivery method that doesn’t suit me.

    In other words: if a teacher’s message is somewhat uncomfortable it is easy to criticize his/her presentation style in order to avoid the actual message. I figure it is something tied in with ego or concepts or attachments rather than a teacher’s failing that leads students to being so resistant to the dharma.

    Having said that, it is true that a certain teaching style might suit a student and that student would therefore be more receptive, and I guess that is why we all prefer one teacher over another but sometimes you just don’t have the choice to run off and study under a specific teacher and you just have to go with whatever center is near-by.

    Here is a bigger question about teachers — how would a person determine if the teacher is a manipulative charlatan or legitimately wants to teach? You could take any teacher and find people who would claim he/she is just a big money grubbing sex/power crazed jerk.

    There has probably been a point in everyone’s life where forking over thousands of dollars and/or years of time and moving to where a specific teacher is was a very attractive idea. (Many of us did exactly that but we called it college!)

  17. Justin Lewis
    Justin Lewis June 15, 2012 at 12:44 pm |

    I’m not sure a teaching style really has anything to do with why I didn’t like the pre-face/introduction of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. In general, I’ve always been sorta annoyed by introductions. I’d rather just read what Shunryu Suzuki said without any preamble at all. I’m the same way toward all “classics” which always seem to be stuffed with some sort of introduction featuring someone else’s take on the significance of the words and/or person, usually long after that person is dead. Personally I don’t care for it, but I imagine there are people who do. That’s why I haven’t hatched an ingenious plan of worldwide domination hell-bent on the outlawing of pre-faces and introductions. But I’ll gladly tear them out of my own books.

    It’s easy to believe that there’s some sort of deep seated blockage causing my abject hatred of introductions, and that I have to confront my hatred of introduction daemons before I can rise to the next level of what-ever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it, but the reality is that I just don’t like them. And that’s not likely to ever change. Usually I just skip them, and don’t resort to man-on-book violence, but for Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind I made a special exception.

  18. Ted
    Ted June 15, 2012 at 1:04 pm |

    There is a bodhisattva vow in the Tibetan lineage about not mistaking the teacher for the teaching. I think it’s relevant to the question of introductions. You want to hear what Suzuki-roshi has to say, but not what his student has to say, in a sense. But Suzuki-roshi presumably knew about the introduction, and could have prevented it from being added. So the fact that it was added is an indication of Suzuki-roshi’s intent that it be taken as a part of the teaching that the book represents.

    My intention in replying about the sensory deprivation was not to suggest that practice is easy, or that we should not teach from our personal experience. I do teach from my personal experience, and it works. And I don’t find practice easy. And I wasn’t raised Buddhist—I was raised atheist.

    What I was trying to point out with my irony is that discussions about hypothetical situations that can’t occur in nature are not particularly conducive to insight. Of course that doesn’t make them any less fun, but it’s easy to confuse all of this discourse with practice—that’s what I was getting at.

  19. Fred
    Fred June 15, 2012 at 1:23 pm |

    I could not read Baker’s words knowing that he was so attached to his ego and
    its sexual needs, that he would violate young women even if they propositioned

    To know something and not live it, is not yet to know it.

  20. Fred
    Fred June 15, 2012 at 1:49 pm |

    As for insight, can a man have insight without Kensho, Satori or even a small
    opening, or does he merely repeat the words of those who preceded him.

    If the understanding is in the intellect, is it insight

  21. Justin Lewis
    Justin Lewis June 15, 2012 at 2:29 pm |

    “Suzuki-roshi presumably knew about the introduction, and could have prevented it from being added. So the fact that it was added is an indication of Suzuki-roshi’s intent that it be taken as a part of the teaching that the book represents.”

    Ted, thanks for offering your thoughts. Despite my tone, which I’m sure comes across as pretty snarky, I like this sort of back and forth. There’s something about being able to step back and read things over a few times before coming forward with my best shot.

    That being said, I can never agree 100% with this sort of reasoning. I’ve seen alot of people (U.S.A. Republicans mainly) use this sort of reasoning to justify making their own beliefs and opinions about what the United States Constitution means into facts about what our founding fathers intended for this country. I can accept the possibility, but not the certainty.

    1. Ted
      Ted June 15, 2012 at 2:50 pm |

      I’m enjoying this conversation, too. I don’t mean that we should take the introduction literally. But you make just as dangerous a leap when you propose that words that Suzuki-roshi spoke are of a different quality than words that he affirmed, spoken by another.

      The danger you are referring to is the danger of thinking that words have meanings that are inherent to them. As soon as we believe that, we start to have religious arguments about the specific meaning of specific words, or the relative correctness of different words. Why should we think Suzuki-roshi’s words are any more correct than Richard Baker’s? Is it because we like him better? Because of the scandal Fred keeps alluding to? Because we have some knowledge that Suzuki-roshi was wiser?

      Why not say that only the Buddha’s words have this special quality of being correct?

      I will tell you my answer: I have never met “the Buddha.” I never met Suzuki-roshi either. Nor have I met Richard Baker. As far as I know, all three people are fictional, although I am sure that some people participating in this conversation have personal experience to the contrary.

      So if the words can possibly have any function in giving rise to insight in my mind when I read them or when I meditate after reading them, it is because I brought to the reading of the words a state of mind which could be affected by the words to produce insight.

      So then it makes just as much sense to talk about which mind is correct as which words are correct, but in doing so I think we deny that there is a Buddhist path, because if some minds can follow it and some can’t, what sort of path is it?

      What this all boils down to for me is that I have to have some kind of faith in Suzuki-roshi, who I never met, and who may or may not have been the person who spoke the words recorded in the book, that he anticipated that these words might be of some benefit to me. And then I have to try to read the words, and let them color my mind, and see what sort of benefit I get from allowing this to happen.

      And then if Suzuki-roshi affirmed Richard Baker’s words, then whatever positive or negative qualities he may have, my trust in Suzuki-roshi’s own words has to extend to Richard Baker’s words as well. It is not that they are correct, or incorrect, but that Suzuki-roshi intended me to read them.

      And of course, the irony is that the reason I have any trust whatsoever in Suzuki-roshi is because I’ve read his words, and found them to be of benefit.

  22. Ted
    Ted June 15, 2012 at 2:37 pm |

    There’s a big debate about whether you can ever have Kensho, Satori or lesser realizations without intellectual understanding first: I would say that that’s the key difference between the Zen/Chan approach and the Tibetan approach, although certainly not the only difference.

    But as to whether you can have insight on a purely intellectual level, the best answer is probably “mu.” To intellectualize it for a moment, though, I think that since “insight” is usually used as the antithesis of “intellect,” it seems to me that on a purely semantic level we can answer your question in the negative. But I think “mu” is a better answer. What is intellect, anyway?

  23. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 15, 2012 at 3:38 pm |

    “Mark, my question was If you spent your entire life in a sensory deprivation tank,
    would there be any locus of consciousness?

    If the props supporting this conditioned, limited focus of awareness trapped in
    time, were removed, would duality cease to exist?”

    If consciousness takes place sponteneously, so does action. If consciousness takes place conditioned by attachment, so does volitive activity. Volitive activity ceases in the meditative states; my contention would be that the meditative states are hynogogic states, and that the induction of the hypnogogic states follows readily from close attendence to the sense of location in space.

    “Be aware of where you really are twenty-four hours a day. You must be most attentive.”

    (Zen Letters, Teachings of Yuanwu”, Cleary brothers, from “It Doesn’t Come from Outside pg 53)

    Are we talking about psychic abilities, cosmic consciousness? What could be more the cosmos conscious than raising a cup of coffee to my lips without intention?

  24. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 15, 2012 at 5:23 pm |

    On “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”- in the last decade I’ve begun to understand that many of Shunryu Suzuki’s stories were retellings of material in the Zen literature. I think even the useage of “beginner’s mind” in connection with Zen was not original with him. Well, what do they say; a good artist borrows, a great artist steals outright?

    The real preface to “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” if you ask me is Suzuki’s biography “Crooked Cucumber” by David Chadwick. The lectures and interviews on Chadwick’s site reveal a great deal about the juxtaposition of cultures in the 60’s and 70’s that made the S.F. Zen Center possible, and they also reveal something of the difficulties which are still ongoing in the assimilation of Japanese Zen in America (IMO).

    I myself am stubborn, and I can relate to slicing the preface and introduction out of the book:

    “Remember the Alamo
    When help was on the way
    It’s better here and now,
    I feel that good today.”

    (from Ride my Llama by Neil Young)

  25. Jinzang
    Jinzang June 16, 2012 at 9:21 pm |

    “There’s a big debate about whether you can ever have Kensho, Satori or lesser realizations without intellectual understanding first: I would say that that’s the key difference between the Zen/Chan approach and the Tibetan approach, although certainly not the only difference.”

    While Tibetan Buddhism recommends intellectual study, I’m not aware of anywhere it’s said that it’s required for enlightenment. There are many stories that make this point. Here’s one I was told by Lama Phurbu Tashi. A scholarly monk was on pilgrimage and passed a farmer working in the field. The farmer, seeing the monk, asked him how to meditate. The monk told him, “leave the mind in its natural state,” which is a common expression in mahamudra. The farmer pondered what the monk had told him while cultivating his fields. After some years, he had a break through and was deeply enlightened. He wanted to thank the monk who had told him how to meditate and through the siddhis he had developed as a result of enlightenment, was able to locate him at a monastic college. So he went there to thank the monk, but when he want there, he realized that the monk was not enlightened, So the farmer guided the scholar monk and after some time, he also attained enlightenment.

    1. Ted
      Ted June 16, 2012 at 9:49 pm |

      According to the Tibetan tradition, solitary realizers have their realization after many lifetimes of study. It’s true that they do not study in the lifetime where they reach their enlightenment, but their enlightenment still depends on the study they did in previous lifetimes.

  26. Ah Heng
    Ah Heng June 16, 2012 at 9:54 pm |

    If “prosperity theology” is applied to Buddhism, it’s proponents would have a lot of explaining to do should someone point out the Buddha’s austere lifestyle.

    1. Ted
      Ted June 16, 2012 at 10:07 pm |

      Au contraire, the Buddha had everything he wanted. He was the most prosperous being in the entire world during his lifetime. Theology can’t be applied to Buddhism because Buddhism is not about worshiping gods. Prosperity is the karmic result of practicing generosity, and this is a pretty standard teaching of Buddhism, not something Geshe Michael invented.

      It’s true that some Buddhist traditions ignore this aspect of the teaching and focus strictly on the motivation of reaching Nirvana, but not all students are interested in reaching Nirvana—you have to start somewhere.

  27. MJGibbs
    MJGibbs June 17, 2012 at 12:46 am |

    The other day I came across this quote from Garchen Rinpoche, a Tibetan teacher I’ve seen many times. I feel like this quote is very similar to the Zen point of view and thought I’d share.

    The Buddha is Nowhere Apart from Your Own Mind

    Do not worry about enlightenment; the Buddha is within your mind already, ready to be seen. But because we cannot turn inward and are constantly distracted we fail to recognize the Buddha. When past thoughts have ceased and future thoughts have not yet arisen, in this space between fixations you can glimpse the nature of mind abiding like space; this is the Buddha. If you remain within this nature continuously, you are enlightened. Whenever you stop grasping, there is no cause of samsara. Whenever you begin to grasp, you have again created the cause of samsara. The Buddha is actually not somewhere far away. The Buddha is always ready to be seen. If you do not give up the fixation to a self, but try to escape from samsara by secluding your body, you will still not be liberated. If you give up the fixation to a self while continuing to live in the world, you will be liberated. In particular, when difficulties and suffering arise, do not grasp at them; let these thoughts dissolve into space. Even if there is an external so-called problem, the mind does not need to grasp. People who do not understand this sometimes commit suicide, unable to bear even the slightest problem. The Buddha is nowhere apart from your own mind.

    Reminders of Kindness, Compassion, and Your Own True Nature by Kyabje Garchen Rinpoche

  28. Joshu
    Joshu June 17, 2012 at 3:51 pm |

    Very long retreats are not necessarily more fruitful than shorter ones. In one of the Satipatthana suttas the Buddha is alleged to have said that the full fruits of practice can be obtained in as few as seven days. The Zen tradition asserts that awakening can occur instantaneously, & it is a staple of Mahayana doctrine that all beings are fundamentally, naturally awake. Many teachers have stated the greater efficacy of regularity as opposed to intensity of practice. And finally, trainees (if that is the right term) in zazen are cautioned that no amount of meditation can bring about enlightenment. We dwell in the midst of these mysteries & do (or not do) what we can (or must).

  29. Jinzang
    Jinzang June 17, 2012 at 7:08 pm |

    “According to the Tibetan tradition, solitary realizers have their realization after many lifetimes of study.”

    The “Tibetan tradition” on this matter is just the teaching of Asanga and other Indian Mahayana teachers. Tibetans like Jamgon Kongtrul may have added a few flourishes, but the tradition was essentially unaltered.

    And the term “study” is misleading. Tibetan Buddhism does not teach you get enlightened by reading books.

  30. Fred
    Fred June 19, 2012 at 12:52 pm |

    There is no one to get enlightened.

    The backwards step into the light turned inward is the erosion of the fiction.

  31. Fred
    Fred June 19, 2012 at 1:34 pm |

    A Shift in the Matrix – Dispelling Darkness by Shining the Light Inwards.

    “everything that has a beginning has an end, Neo”.

  32. Fred
    Fred June 19, 2012 at 1:41 pm |

    “For me, it has been such an amazing display of appearance and emptiness. My Love’s temporary aggression in those first few months of the retreat didn’t ripen for me as a negative karma in the slightest. I saw the whole thing as a divine play. He taught me so much.”

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